Friday marked the end of my first round of school lunches with the students. A week for each grade, a day for each form class. My experiences of these 20 minute pockets of time have been as varied as the lunch menu itself. Mostly palatable, sometimes surprising and on the odd occasion absolutely terrible…
June 1st – 1st Year – 2nd Form (1-2)
My second lunch with the kids brought home the true meaning of the saying ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’. I had the pleasure of sitting with 2 of my favourite 1st year students…Mr Kasai and Mr Kikuchi. Both are a little mischievous and are quite good at English. The other thing they have in common is that they are probably the 2 smallest kids in the school (yes that’s including the girls).
About a second after the word itadakimasu* was uttered, it was abundantly clear that these 2 were not going to be speaking to me though…or anyone else for that matter! In place of conversation, I was treated to a spectacle unlike any other I have witnessed. I watched in awe as Mr Kasai (who was sitting opposite me) inhaled not one, but two bowls of ramen without even blinking. At least I know where this kid gets his energy from now.
June 9th – 2nd Year – 3rd Form (2-3)
I saw the look of absolute terror in Miss Mitsugi’s eyes when I placed my lunch tray on the desk opposite her on this fateful day. Apparently her worse nightmares had come true…she had to eat with ‘the ALT’. I did a quick check to see if I had grown a 2nd head since I last looked in the mirror, then put on my best smile as I sat down.
To be honest I did feel for the poor kid. I mean heck, she sits at the front of the class so I have probably picked on her a few times to read new words during English lessons. Compounded with the fact she has probably never seen a blonde, blue eyed person before in her life, I probably am very scary. Come to think of it, why aren’t more of the kids petrified?!
Things didn’t improve as Miss Mitsugi and the other 3 kids in my lunch group flat out refused to look at me, let alone the magazines and photos I brought to show them. So 20 minutes of stone cold silence ensued, despite a few fumbled attempts on my behalf to speak Japanese to them.
As the word gochisosamadeshita** escaped from my mouth I breathed a sigh of relief that my penance was over and I was free to leave. I figured that Miss Mitsugi and her team of mutes would be just as excited to see me walk out of that classroom. However as I stood up and went to pick up my lunch tray, Miss Mitzugi quickly launched across the desk to take it from me. She looked at me, smiled and as I quickly thanked her she happily went about clearing away my dirty dishes.
Perhaps she didn’t mind me being there after all?
June 10th – 2nd Year – 4th Form (2-4)
After the previous day’s nightmare with Miss Mitsugi, I figured I had experienced the worst that could happen during school lunch. Looking back that’s probably true, but this lunch comes in a very close second…saved only by an awe inspiring feat by Mr Hiroki…
It was a bad start when I was seated with a group of boys…one of whom is possibly the worst English student in the school (and that includes my special needs kids). Mr Tanuma avoids all kind of contact with me during class time…so I knew there wasn’t a chance he was going to give me a second of his precious free time.
That factor aside, the boys at school tend to be so focused on eating they have little time to talk at lunch anyway. Mr Hiroki was a prime example of this. Tofu was on the menu and it was pretty clear Mr Hiroki likes tofu. Actually, to say he likes it is a huge understatement. Before we had started eating, he had stacked up 4 blocks on his tray…gladly commandeering the rejects of his fellow classmates. I was intrigued by this and wondered if he could rival Mr Kasai’s ramen effort from the previous week. Just to challenge him, I offered him my surplus tofu, gained in the teachers’ room due to staff absences.
Mr Hiroki did not disappoint…watching him eat was like watching art in motion…very, very fast motion. He took meticulous care to inscribe each of the five blocks of tofu with a precise grid pattern, then poured the soy sauce over each one so that no drop was spilled. Skillful? Yes. But the real talent was Mr Hiroki downing those 5 blocks of tofu faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100m sprint…
June 11th – 2nd Year – 5th Form (2-5)
I find myself smiling even now as I think of this lunch. Regular followers of Paper Doll will already be familiar with Mr Oga…the little delight who invited me to the movies a few weeks ago? This kid has quickly become one of my favourites, despite lacking a natural talent in English. He always puts in 110% during class and is super cheeky which constantly keeps me entertained! He has taken to saying ‘very beautiful’ to me every time he sees me in the halls now and accompanies the words with a fake fainting motion…it makes me chuckle every time.
When Omori Sensei announced to 2-5 that I would be joining them for lunch in our morning lesson together, I could see Mr Oga’s eyes light up with anticipation, all the way from his seat at the back of the room. Just to make sure he had heard correctly he confirmed with Omori Sensei in Japanese that it was in fact true. I already new it was going to be a good lunch!
So it was no surprise when I turned up at the door to the 2-5 classroom at 12.40pm that Mr Oga was waiting there to greet me. ‘Miss Carla, Miss Carla’ announced my arrival to everyone else as he took my tray and proudly put it down at a table amidst his lunch group. Just how how he conjured up a spare desk at his lunch group I am not quite sure…
Mr Oga was anxious to get conversation under way and was not at all discouraged by the language barrier…happily using the other students as translators! Miss Watari and Miss Fujihara, bless them, humoured Mr Oga and helped out by facilitating the Q&A segment of the lunch conversation. Once Mr Oga had attained the information he required (Did I have a boyfriend? Where do I live? What was I doing that weekend?) he ditched the translators.
Wanting a more personal approach, he whipped out his English textbook, hoping to find inspiration. Much to the delight of all of us, he stumbled on the set phrases laid out in the back of the text and quickly blurted out ‘let’s have a party tonight!’. Without batting an eyelid I retorted ‘at your house?!’. He looked to the girls to translate and when they did, a sly smile came across his face…’sure!’.
I’m not sure who enjoyed that lunch more, Mr Oga or me.
June 11th – 3rd Year – 1st Form (3-1)
Last Monday was my inauguration into 3rd year lunches and boy did it start with a bang. I had high hopes going in as it is Isono Sensei’s form class…the tennis coach who speaks excellent English and has taken a liking to me.
I was blessed(?) with the company of Mr Ijima (‘curry rice’ comic genius from Paper Doll’s ‘Engrish’ entry) and Mr Sekine for the duration of my meal. These boys are in my advanced English class so I breathed a sigh of relief that at least there would be conversation during lunch. Little did I know that I would be begging for silence by the end of those 20 minutes…
I sat down and proceeded to have a very civilised conversation with Mr Sekine, discovering that he wants to become an English teacher in the future. I then moved onto asking Mr Sekine and the other kids about their trip to Kyoto, hoping to engage all of them. This seemingly innocuous conversation started out innocently enough, but with the addition of Mr Ijima’s thoughts it quickly spiralled out of control!
Somehow we went from discussing ‘how beautiful Kinkakuji Temple is’, to ‘how there are lesbian deer f#cking in a forest near Kyoto that smell bad’ in the space of 5 short minutes!!!
Like a CSI at a murder scene I have tried many times to retrace the events of that day and piece together exactly what happened. The memory of the conversation demise is a complete blur…however the acute sense of fear I remember well. As Mr Ijima and Mr Sekine bacame more excited about the topic of conversation, they became more animated…and a lot louder. Eager to communicate their point to me, they took to repeating themselves over and over…only encouraged by my look of sheer terror.
I spent the last few minutes of lunch looking over my shoulder checking if Isono Sensei was aware of the conversation and trying to silence the boys from saying ‘deer f#cking’…over and over and over.
Thankfully I have lunch in the teachers’ room this week…